Rumsfeld defends remarks about democracy in Iraq, says he wasn’t criticizing Bush

Updated 10:00 AM EDT, Wed June 10, 2015
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2011.
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Washington CNN —  

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted in an interview with CNN Tuesday that his recent comments about being skeptical about creating a democracy in Iraq did not contradict his previous positions about the Iraq War.

Rumsfeld also called the Times of London’s report over the weekend – which suggested his views were critical of his old boss, President George W. Bush – “ridiculous.”

“When we went in (to Iraq), my view – and I thought it was a broadly held view – was that the goal was to have Saddam Hussein not be there, and to have what replaced Saddam Hussein be a government that would not have weapons of mass destruction, that would not invade its neighbors, and that would be reasonably respectful of diverse ethnic groups – meaning the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds,” Rumsfeld told CNN in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “And that was kind of the understanding I had and I thought everyone had.”

In a story titled “Bush was wrong on Iraq, says Rumsfeld,” Rumsfeld told The Times that “the idea that we could fashion a democracy in Iraq seemed to me unrealistic. I was concerned about it when I first heard those words … I’m not one who thinks that our particular template of democracy is appropriate for other countries at every moment of their histories.”

Bush supported the more ambitious goal of democracy in Iraq, but Rumsfeld told CNN that “the implication that that statement was anti-Bush is ridiculous.”

But others in the media have looked at previous comments Rumsfeld made about democracy in Iraq and suggested he has changed his tune.

In a May 2003 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, Rumsfeld said, “This much is clear: we have a stake in their success. For if Iraq – with its size, capabilities, resources and its history – is able to move to the path of representative democracy, however bumpy the road, then the impact in the region and the world could be dramatic. Iraq could conceivably become a model – proof that a moderate Muslim state can succeed in the battle against extremism taking place in the Muslim world today.”

Rumsfeld told CNN that he stands by that statement, that a democratic Iraq would be a model for the region, but that doesn’t contradict his skepticism or the fact that his goals for what came after Saddam Hussein were more modest.

Rumsfeld, who served as Bush’s defense secretary from 2001 to 2006, also told The Times that removing former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was a mistake because it destabilized the region.

The Iraq War and concerns over Middle East stability have returned to the forefront of the national debate with the ongoing battle with ISIS.